Andrew Johnson: A Study in Courage

By Lloyd Paul Stryker | Go to book overview

LXXXIII
THE DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION

THE opportunity presented to the Democrats of 1868 was an unusual one. They had that rare combination of resources which statesmen seek but politicians overlook,--an issue and a man. The issue was the Constitution, and the man Andrew Johnson. But political parties in America are none too eager to accept real issues, or candidates with courage to espouse them.

Andrew Johnson was a lifelong Democrat. Neither Jefferson nor Jackson was more loyal to the principles of his party. His struggle culminating finally in his acquittal had every element of drama, every ingredient of popular appeal. It would enlist the sympathies of Democrats, and the approbation of all Republicans capable of seeing that he was the bold disciple of his predecessor. He had every claim to the Democratic nomination and he had strong hopes of receiving it.1 But he was not the only prominent figure of the impeachment trial who harbored this ambition. The old Presidential fever had taken hold of Chase again! The trial was little more than well begun when the malady once more held him in its grip.2

Chase's conduct throughout the trial afforded one of the strangest contrasts. In the daytime he presided at the sessions of the High Court with dignity, impartiality and great skill, while at night he plied his pen in writing letters unworthy of a college sophomore. His clumsy angling for the Democratic nomination was such an act of folly as to render him ludicrous and his judicial robes less than immaculate.

Coyness is not appealing in a man over six feet tall,3 and Chase was coy. On March 2nd to W. S. Hatch he wrote: "I rather think you give me credit for more political ambition than I have. . . . I have never had any sanguine expectation that the people would call me to the Presidency. There have been now

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